The LEED Platinum Case Study Nobody Wants You To Read

A non-profit organization, dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of Chesapeake Bay, commissioned a breath-taking facility that would eventually become the first LEED Platinum building in the world. Improperly protected engineered wood components led to water intrusion and compromised structural integrity. The building cost $7-million to build. The estimated cost of repair, according to a lawsuit filed by the organization, is $6-million.

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation Headquarters building is recognized as one of the ‘greenest’ buildings ever constructed.” – USGBC


  • 32,000 sf office building completed in December 2000
  • 1st LEED Platinum rated project in history of USGBC
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental advocacy, restoration, and education
  • Made extensive use of sustainable Parallam® engineered wood product




The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is dedicated to saving the bay and its tributaries. According to their mission, they “restore, advocate, educate and litigate” to fight for strong laws and regulations aimed to improve the surrounding environment. In 2001, construction was completed on a new headquarters that, in line with their mission, would minimize impact on the environment. Here is their description:

The Merrill Center, which opened in 2001, is one of the world’s most energy-efficient buildings, incorporating natural elements into a fully functional workplace that has minimal impact on its Bay- and creek-front surroundings. The center and its sophisticated systems have won international acclaim as a model for energy efficiency, high performance, and water conservation.

The Merrill Center is an interactive model that educates and inspires people, including hundreds of businesses, organizations, and government agencies. It is extremely cost effective and operates in harmony with the land, natural resources, and the Chesapeake Bay, proving that “green” buildings work. Our facility also proves that it isn’t necessary to lose comfort or beauty to build responsibly.

All materials are made of recycled products or created through processes that don’t damage the environment. The Merrill Center is the first building to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Good Intentions Aren’t Enough…

Shortly after occupancy, water intrusion was observed through the building envelope. Closer investigation revealed that not only was water getting into the building, but was penetrating key structural components made of the recycled and engineered wood product known as Parallam.

Engineers stated that the structural integrity of the building had been severely compromised, as a result.

The cause of this condition was due to miscommunication or misunderstanding between various parties including the architect, contractor, the manufacturer of the engineered wood components, and a subcontractor responsible for applying preservative to the Parallams.

Chesapeake2 copy

Over the next decade, the Parallams continued to experience damage, despite some efforts to reseal exposed portions. In January 2011, the non-profit filed a lawsuit against a number of parties including the contractor, architect/engineer, and the manufacturer of the Parallams. Settlement was reached with all of the parties except the Parallam manufacturer, Weyerhauser.

In 2012, the court issued a ruling regarding the non-profit’s claims against Weyerhaeuser. Unfortunately for Chesapeake Bay Foundation (whose mission you’ll recall, includes “litigation”), the statute of limitations had expired. This means that the organization waited too long to bring about its claims, and therefore was not entitled to receive compensation to make necessary repairs (estimated at over $6-million), nor any reimbursement for the cost of its litigation.

Still Available for Weddings (at your own risk…)

The Merrill Environmental Center is undoubtedly a very attractive building that sits on a location that is even more beautiful. In fact, the space is available for weddings and other events. If you’re interested in renting the space for your next event, contact them today.

But before you commit, you might want to note what the organization had to say about the “world’s greenest building” in its complaint:

“[T]he structural integrity of the Project is in jeopardy and the building is now at risk of collapse. Thus, the defective condition of the PolyClear 2000 has created a clear risk of death or serious injury at the project.”


Images courtesy CRC Career Development, Brad McDermott, and CRC Career Development again

6 thoughts on “The LEED Platinum Case Study Nobody Wants You To Read

  1. And what does this actually have to do with LEED? As Chris Cheatham noted, it is about the inappropriate use of parallam which "had not been treated to the levels prescribed by the contract documents or else the preservative had deteriorated because it was unsuitable for the application."

    The failure has nothing to do with LEED, it is about a bad choice of materials and finishes. Other than in the quote from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, it never even is mentioned in the body of your article. So why does the title of the post that seems to blame LEED for this problem?

    1. Lloyd – thanks for commenting. I'm a huge fan of you and your work. Regarding your question, the answer is very simple:… – this project was (before Bullitt Center) heralded as "one of the greenest buildings ever constructed." The point of the post and the point of the headline is that the promises of green building will never be realized until we, as an industry, can figure out how to achieve better quality.

      My whole point isn't that LEED is to blame, it is that even LEED Platinum offers no guarantees regarding durability, resiliency, and just plain common sense. Our industry has major problems: decreasing skilled labor, increasing building complexity (and with it, risk), decreasing insurance coverage, shifting understandings of standard of care, and most importantly, no established standards of practice for managing quality. We have to find better ways of bridging the gap between the intended quality, and the quality that is actually delivered consistently on a daily basis.

      The problems with Merrill Center are all too common. And that IS the point. The biggest risk to sustainable design and construction isn't from political interests or naysayers – it is from our industry's own inability to achieve quality.

      (Just to clarify, I am not a LEED-basher. In fact, I'm head of the marketing committee for the San Diego Green Building Council and I'm volunteering with our chapter's Green Assistance Program. Our latest project is getting some buildings built in the 1930s LEED certified under Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance.)

      I hope we can continue this dialogue.

  2. Thanks for the response. You make a very good point about the USGBC still having it up there, not good marketing.

    It has been years since I commented on another blog, not wanting to invite the same on my posts. It's fun, I may do it again.

    1. Thank you. Keep up the good work. You have been a huge inspiration to me through your writing.

Comments are closed.

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